tv FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on New Orleans Ten Years After Hurricane... CSPAN August 27, 2015 8:00pm-8:31pm EDT
tokyo. from the japanese invasion of the philippines and the death march through the surrender ceremony in 1945. get our complete schedule and c-span.org. announcer: tonight, events related to the 10th anniversary of hurricane katrina. next, craig few gate on lessons for disaster preparedness learned from katrina. then, the experiences of the baquet family in new orleans. 10 years ago, hurricane katrina struck new orleans and the gulf coast, causing over 1200 deaths and $100 billion in property damage. atlantic magazine hosted a conference on long-term impacts of the hurricane.
fema director craig fugate discusses lessons learned from the response to katrina. >> it is good to be with you. i am steve clemons, washington editor at large at the atlantic. as we discussed these weighty issues some of you lived through, we have someone who heads the agency. craig fugate is the administer -- administrator of fema. probably the most maligned federal administration in history. if you look back at the press coverage of fema and its administrator during that time, the first thing that in terms of
doing a historical look at this is, what went so wrong? why did it go so wrong? >> there is a lot of people who want to focus on an individual. i have been in this business for a while and we have seen this pattern over and over again. the nation prepares for something and when something worse happens, we are not prepared. it goes back to her again andrew, hurricane hugo. we plan for what we're capable of doing, not what can happen, and then things scale up. we actually had the national hurricane conference that year in new orleans in april talking about that risk. fema had participated in a -- an exercise with the state. if you don't plan for what can happen --
>> you had a discussion before katrina hit in april of that year that basically simulated out what might happen? >> we actually looked at worst things. a major hurricane overlying -- flooding the main levee system. if you looked at a lot of the plans, they would plan for what had happened in the past, what people thought was reasonable to plan for. mother nature is not reasonable. what you had was, everybody thought, if it is worse than that we will just scale up, and it did not. it was also a very disjointed response and that you have what i call, each local government was like dominoes having to fall before the next level to kick in. >> explain what that means of how domino action was triggered. as the triggering dominoes of a request came in, what came to your agency, why did it mobilize
so late? >> it goes back to how we are structured. most disasters, strong -- small ones are handled by local governments every day. occasionally it will get to the level where the governor will request from the president that they need assistance, and fema acts upon the direction of the president. that, day to day works probably for small floods and tornadoes. it does not work in large-scale disasters. the tendency was each level was planning, responding, and waiting for it to get to the next level. i am not saying fema was not doing things ahead of time, the way we had set up our structure was equal -- each local government has to make the request to get assistance. congress recognized this in the post-katrina reform act.
why do we have to wait for them to ask for help to start moving? the thing you lose in disasters you never get back is time. it is not so much the lack of resources, it is the decisions being made to commit resources that you may have to make those quickly. you may not have formal request. if you wait until people know how bad it is, you lose time and you never get time back. unlike other hazards, we can see hurricanes coming. what we have learned and done in this administration is we are not waiting for storms to get close or governors to make requests. we start planning, how bad can it the, and move resources there in time. the government may not ultimately need those resources, but time is the one aspect of response you never get back so you need to be planning for what could happen, not what you are planning to do, and move quickly not waiting for all the thought
-- back. -- facts. the levees broke. at that point you need certain and rescue -- search and rescue. it is the understanding that you go by what could happen, not what you are prepared to do. when you see something developing, you plan upon the worst-case scenario. we are not in the business of hope. >> i just want to tell the audience i spent some time with the administrator a little while ago and he is the most pleasant gloom and doom guy you could have at a dinner table. you have been in disaster preparedness and recovery all your life, thinking about these issues. i read in 2011 you oversaw 87 emergency responses. you were made famous for overseeing the four hurricanes in 2004. both president bush and pray
bomb -- president obama wanted you to come in so you are seen as the disaster guy by just about everyone. what did you think was wrong with fema when you came in? what were the big things you set out to change in the way they respond? what is the difference today in the dna of fema under you than what we had under michael brown? >> think big, go big, go fast, the smart about it. >> by implication, none of those were the case before? >> they were so afraid of making decisions for being wrong, having to have information. they want to look at how do we reduce cost. getting ready and responding to disasters is not cheap. there is always the budget consideration, as is going to cost a lot of money, do we really need it? what if we cut here, what if we cut their westmark -- cut there?
we got more -- paralysis, or people were so fearful of the wrong they would wait until they had all the information to get to the right answer. you do not have time, you go with the best answer with the information. i went through this -- we used to wait until a disaster happened and try to assess how bad it was before we would respond. that is why we used to say, the first 72 hours, it is going to take that long to know how bad it is. i was like, why are we waiting 72 hours? if it is a category three hurricane, why don't we assume it is bad? that is not how the system was set up. i was like, the system is insane, we are changing it. if you have a major hurricane about to make landfall you better be ready to respond when the wind dies low enough.
speed is key. you have to have the resources based on the population at risk. this is not rocket science. you have got to risk, you have a population, you have impact. unlike an earthquake, we see it coming. it does not mean there will not be tragedy, damages, and it does not mean there will not be loss of life, but it should not be a mystery to wait for someone to do an assessment for we respond. the lesson i learned in 2004, speed is key and the more time you wait, the less you will change the outcome. respond like it is bad. you can always go down and reduce. you do not get time back. the thing i hammered in fema over and over again, we never get time back. before the governor makes a formal request to the president,
if it is a response we need to be moving. a lot of disasters are about helping financially recover, and since we do that most of the time, our systems tend to gravitate around that you we wait for the requests, and that is about financial reimbursement. it is about rebuilding after disaster. that model does not work in a response. if your system is built around what you do most of the time, that is what you will do when you have the katrina. you have to build for what the mission is, being able to move quickly with little information based upon as best as you can with models and probability of impacts. >> one of the impressions that people have, and i can feel it just seeing the media coverage on the 10th anniversary of katrina, is a sense that the kind of resources you direct help out rich, white communities and leave behind those that are disadvantaged, those in other
communities, that there is not a fair or effective distribution that covers the population. would you agree with that? >> yes. does anybody have any idea that maximum amount of fema assistance? it is about $32,000. you need to have uninsured losses. you also have to fail means test in that the next level of the system says a low interest loan from the small business administration. if you do not qualify for the sba, you may be eligible for fema grants. fema grants were not designed to make people whole, although a lot of people come in afterwards and say fema is going to make everybody better. fema was designed to do the initial response and start the process. the mayor was talking about all
of the dollars that have come to the city. that is not fema dollars. i know of no community that did not have a housing issue before the disaster that got better just because you had a hurricane or earthquake. we do not deal with the job situation, the unemployment the tuition in education -- the unemployment situation, and education. ours is like the initial response to give somebody some help, give them a place to live, give them some initial assistance. carter has never built fema to make people whole. the poor get the most help from fema because they do not qualify for loans and do not have insurance. poverty is one of the single biggest factors of impact in disasters of not being able to
recover. the other thing we had was a middle-class that were middle-class because of the homeownership. when they lost their homes they were no longer middle-class. if you got the wealth, you can weather disasters better than the poor. that is just a fact of life, because the way our programs are designed at fema, we do not exist to pre-existing conditions and we will not make people whole. we are designed to be a bridge. what are the things that congress directed us to do under president obama we have looked at, if you only look at fema programs, communities will not recover because you have to look at the community's needs as a whole. fema has a small piece in that. what we have been asked to do is courtney among federal agencies. are we addressing the underlying issues? is there going to be affordable housing, jobs?
people left is the schools were not coming back, there was no place to stay, it was not safe in many areas. if you want people back, have to have a place to live that you can afford. you have to have a job. you have to have a school system that you are willing to put your kids in. the mayor was talking about, these are the things you have to establish, but we as a federal government did not sit together with the blueprint to work with the state and local governments on how to do that. we missed too many opportunities in that response. we are at 10 years and we are still working on resolving issues with the city on water and sewage. >> he said katrina is not a closed operation. >> it has still open up. >> back in the green room we were talking about how you
thought fema had long made a mistake of competing with the private sector during responses. you have this wonderful, they call the waffle house index. give us a 45 second or one minute frame of the waffle house index. >> i drive back and forth between florida and new orleans, so you knew every intersection you were going past was a waffle house. if there was anything open at that interchange even when the power was out, it will be a waffle house. we came up with this index that if the waffle house is open, it is not that bad. we were not waiting for the locals to tell us it was bad, we were just responding. we would start driving in these areas and if the waffle house was still open i would tell the search and rescue areas, keep going, it is not that bad if the waffle house is closed, it is pretty bad. we try to solve problems with
what we call a government-centric approach to problems. we tended to look at the private sector, somebody we contract with, and get in competition with them. we would be putting out food, water, and supplies in areas where stores were trying to open. we found that perhaps a better way to was -- better way was to sit down with the private sector and let's go where you are not. is there any place in the city that still is underserved by grocery stores? if i am planning on where to put out food and water, should i plan for those areas first? >> absolutely. >> instead of where the stores are. and then asked the stores, what do you need to open up? it was this idea in these really big disasters, there is not
enough government. quit trying to solve problems with this government and look at the private sector as part of the team. if we work together, why are we competing with you and going where you can get open? we need to go where you are not you cannot get open. it goes from the big rocks stores, the drugstores, down to the local businesses, because this is the other horror story that most people do not talk about, how many small businesses get wiped out and do not come back. they do not have the resiliency and cannot go small -- long. of time with interruptions -- long periods of time with interruptions. put people to work, use local businesses, because we tend to bring everybody from the outside.
that may be necessary in the beginning but at some point, if stores are locally open, why aren't you buying their? why aren't you hiring local? and people are displaced while they are waiting for the schools to open or further jobs to come back, as income. you need to turn around and stop thinking about, we are a big federal government, we know everything and we have all the resource. no. we were not doing it the day before the disaster. what made us think we were smart enough to do it the day after the disaster? basically it was emergency management 101 that was not a result of katrina but what we were teaching all the way back when i got into the business. >> if you had rolling into town and the region a disastrous
hurricane on the scale of katrina, how do you think the contours of that book in terms of members and see response -- in terms of emergency response? >> i would hope we would not see loss of life, but the giving is we will lose people. people still have the damages. i think what you would see differently is less of the sense of, we do not know how bad it is, we do not know what we are doing. it may legitimately be, there is just cannot -- just not enough stuff to get there fast enough. we only built systems design for our everyday business model. i think you would see a much different response. you will never be able to answer this question until you have another katrina-sized storm. our experience is, during sandy,
irene, remember isaac? river parishes had no idea how bad they could get hit because they said, isaac is not as bad as katrina, we are fine, and they flooded. we saw this year in orleans parish they did well, and the levee helped. the search on link pontchartrain was actually worse on the river parishes. it was not an issue that fema was not here, we were here. the thing we try to re-emphasized is you have to collapse the dominoes. the locals, states, and fence have to work together as one team. you have to base your scale upon impact to respond as if it is going to be bad, and hope it is not. >> you really remind me herman kahn thinking the unthinkable, the disaster guy in american
history always thinking about nuclear holocaust. when you look into the arena of natural disasters, you said katrina was fully predictable, everything was on the table. how communities would be hit was on the table, and it is stupid to say we could not have been better prepared. as you look forward today, what of the top two or three horrible disasters out there when he to happen that you worry about? >> the cascadia subduction zone off the coast of oregon state has been getting depressed lately, but we have been working in this since i have been in office. >> earthquake and tsunami? >> orleans has always been a dangerous area, but another area that most people do not think about is norfolk, virginia. that area is very vulnerable to storm surge and their population is a nightmare, to try to
evacuate. miami, houston, even new york city. in most cases, we know where the hazards are and the vulnerabilities are. we plan to put our effort on catastrophic disaster planning, not what we do most of the time, but as a nation, what could happen, what is it going to take, and are we getting ready? >> i have a question. there was an adage that you achieve what you measure. according to this person, fema spends considerable amounts of time focusing on process and measuring success against the deli to that -- the deli to that process. would fema consider measuring outcomes as impact, grand impact , how many families move, when, when they are coming back?
do you need a different kind of measure to get more deeply into how fema is helping the community manage disasters? >> yes. the outcome recovery you need to measure, it is not touchy-feely and does not cover every measure but probably the single best indicator is your tax base. the local municipal tax base is probably your best indicator, were you remotely successful in recovering. is your tax base going to be sustainable once the federal dollars rebuilding our unavailable to rebuild the community? did you get housing back did you get jobs back? did you get schools back? it is not a perfect measure, but if you want to drive a lot of the decisions that should've been happening early on, are we going to establish a sustainable tax base. you have a sustainable tax base to provide essential services
and make sure you have done the basic fundamentals for future growth. safe and secure communities, affordable housing, intact and functioning infrastructure, good schools. these are all things you put on your brochures when you want to advertise and bring businesses to your community. it is just process, and i hate process. >> thank you for answering the question. please give a hand to craig fugate, former administrator of fema. >> on saturday, a public commemoration of katrina. though clinton, and new orleans mayor, embers of congress, and leaders will take part in an event to remember the victims in the storm and celebrate recovery. live coverage on saturday at six it eastern.
>> thrilled to be here and i want to thank c-span for covering the national book festival. we have a beautiful day. i hope the camera shows how huge the crowds are. >> one thing to remember about exceptional presidents cannot be said too often is that they are the exception. [laughter] [applause] >> thank you all for coming, this is a wonderful event. it has been said that heaven is alive very. if that is case, heaven has gone outside and we are in heaven at this festival. >> young people are not the leaders for tomorrow. you must say to yourself, i am a youth leader for today and see what i can do. >> that was an article from the
atlantic trying to show a red-blue map. the divide was not a chasm. the divide was a little divide. political scientists which us in town -- the idea that the country is as polarizes washington is wrong. i don't know a single scientist that leads that. >> i hope that all will will relies that whatever they have done in life is something that ought to be recorded and passed on. that is the way we learn. we learn for the future by trying to understand the past. all of us have a past. >> when you talked about guam, you only focused on saipan. so, why did you do that? >> this is a great question. we realize that there was no way we could tell the whole story.
there was no way we could be short of an encyclopedia or having a story read like a telephone book. of course, the telephone boy is not a story. >> i think all the opportunities are open for women now. when i was in law school in 1967, there were 13 women. today, the last schools are 50- d. >> i think the key to understanding what he did is that he never liked people that that he never liked people that put profit above the public good. his view was these parts in wilderness areas belong to the american people for generations unborn and they needed to be handed donna's places to awaken the spirit. >> i made a career out of my love for books. to help spread that love, i found at the texas book festival and the national book festival. while i love reading, i never thought i would write a book.
certainly not one about myself. >> the goal was in some ways a sense of urgency, to go to our families and find them, get the stories before it is too late to be able to -- i have had a father and daughter in los angeles who came together and after hearing the talk and the book, the daughter said, i am taking you to the coffee shop now. >> when history looks back and says that 30 million people -- that is going to be quite a change, quite a martin luther king said, i think that was a bending toward justice. there are things wrong with the health care will. johnson would have said the
important thing is to pass it. when you pass it, it is easier to fix it. >> i believe the narrative historians true calling is to bring back the dead. i tried to do that not only with outside figures, eisenhower's and patterns, but also others who are less familiar like teddy roosevelt junior. >> the station my life i don't think i can afford 10 years on millard fillmore. there is no big person to go back to these silly. i am bringing all of my guys in the room at the same time. i am going to write about leadership. that is what i care about. [applause]
before we break for lunch, want to get a glimpse into eight new orleans family, -- into a new orleans family that can trace its history back a couple hundred years. we want to get some sense of the extent that katrina was an inflection point in the life of this family. guysoing to introduce you in terms of birth order to keep things simple. i will start with wayne, who has owned and operated numerous restaurants in new orleans for some time. currently the owner of little